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Proving their timeless appeal, 20th century designs, from Jacobsen to Le Corbusier, are making a comeback as manufacturers are delving into the archives and creating faithful re-editions of timeless classics.

Can’t get your hands on an original? Early 20th century and post-war furniture classics are enjoying fame second time round as manufacturers delve into design archives, creating faithful re-editions of all-time favorites.

The industrial revolution of the 19th century heralded a radical new course in furniture production, as creators exploited new techniques to create mass-produced works, known as industrial design. As craftsmanship gave way to machine manufacturing, designers began exploring and discovering new techniques. This year Thonet celebrates the 150th anniversary of a pioneer product of industrial design, Michael Thonet’s celebrated Chair 214, the world’s first industrially designed piece of furniture. Its signature bentwood form continues to be a source of inspiration, to such an extent that the celebrated chair has remained in production, with more than 50 million models produced to date.

After the Second World War, industrially produced design flourished with talents such as Arne Jacobsen, Jean Prouvé, Marcel Breuer and Eileen Gray who began applying their craft-based skills to manufacturing. Manufacturers, from Knoll in the United States to Cappellini in Italy, became just as famed as their illustrious designers, and this change overshadowed the work of traditional handcrafts.

Over recent years, contemporary design has moved into the art fold, positioning prototypes and early production line pieces from the 20th century as highly collectible works that are fetching impressive sums at auction. Even during a bleak sales period, Carlo Mollino’s 1949 side table managed to raise 1.31 million at Christie’s 20th-century Decorative Art & Design sale last season. However, the shaky economy has left many sellers too nervous to part with prized pieces, creating a dearth of icons available on the market. While sales of originals may be suffering, manufacturers have tapped into the flourishing design market with faithfully reproduced re-edition pieces.

Finnish furniture manufacturer Artek has an entire division dedicated to the classics. Last year, Artek presented no less than four classic designs dating back to the sixties and beyond, including Alvar Aalto’s 60 stool, designed 75 years ago. This year Zanotta celebrated the 40th anniversary of Marco Zanuso’s Marcuso table, an early example of how automotive technology has influenced furniture design, while Fritz Hansen delved into its back catalogue this year with the re-introduction of Arne Jacobsen’s Grand Prix chair, first produced by the manufacturer back in 1970.

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